Media Release

29/10/2012
Yasi lessons revealed
Cyclone warnings are taken seriously in North Queensland with most residents beginning preparations three days before the weather event, according to research by JCU.

Oct 29, 2012: - Cyclone warnings are taken seriously in North Queensland with most residents beginning preparations three days before the weather event, according to research by James Cook University.

Researchers from JCU’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition in Cairns, in conjunction with staff from the School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences and the School of Education, have released the results of a study of the ‘Preparedness, loss and distress associated with Tropical Cyclone Yasi’.

Led by Professor Kim Usher, the team surveyed 433 residents from Cairns to Townsville as part of a project to help disaster management services improve the community’s preparedness for disasters.

“Almost all of the respondents indicated they took the cyclone warnings seriously and most began preparation three days or more before the cyclone made landfall,” Professor Usher said.

“Interestingly, a significantly greater proportion of residents from Mission Beach to Ingham and Townsville began preparing for the cyclone more than three days before, compared with respondents from Cairns, Babinda and Innisfail, who left the preparation until much later.

“Of the 433 respondents, 115 reported moderate and 59 reported severe property damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Yasi.

“In total, 261 reported adequate insurance to cover the required repairs after the cyclone and 43 were underinsured.

“Overall, 61 were without electricity, 21 were without running water, and nine were without mobile or fixed phone contact for more than 21 days.”

Professor Usher said psychological distress was a common outcome after disasters such as Yasi.

“The levels of psychological distress were higher in towns between Mission Beach and Ingham, followed by Innisfail and Babinda, which is not surprising as these towns were among the hardest hit,” she said.

“Psychological distress was found to be much greater for those participants who had reported major resource losses.”

Quotes from participants about the psychological impact of preparing for the cyclone included:

“I was well prepared physically. I was totally unprepared for the mental/emotional trauma, especially how long it lasts.”

“Due to me working as a Police officer in the Cardwell area at that time I was required to spend most of my pre cyclone time preparing and evacuating others in the area. This left me very little time to look after my family and my personal residence. Most of my preparations were done on the day of the cyclone, which added significantly to pressure being put on me to be able to protect my own residence and family.”

Professor Usher said the study supported the findings of other international studies into the psychological effects of disasters that essential resources for survival such as food, water, shelter and alternate means of cooking and lighting were the main priorities.

“The means to contact friends and family is also important in order to maintain a strong social support network,” she said.

“Afterwards, education about stress management techniques and coping strategies can help disaster victims and survivors to process their experiences and avoid the downward spiral of psychological distress.

“Re-establishing normalcy and routines, as well as organising support groups also helps.”

The results of the study will be shared with local disaster management services to help northern Queenslanders prepare for future cyclones.

The study will also be adapted for use as a prototype for similar work with victims of the Japanese tsunami and southeast Queensland’s floods.

“We will then have a survey that can be used to determine preparedness and losses related to cyclones, floods and tsunamis,” Professor Usher said.

The report can be accessed at: http://www.jcu.edu.au/whocc/public/groups/everyone/documents/technical_report/jcu_112718.pdf

Contact: Professor Kim Usher 07 40421391

Issued: October 29, 2012

JCU Media Liaison, Jim O’Brien 07 4781 4822 or 0418 892449